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What Does an Artist Need to Do to Make it to the Billboard Hot 100?

Updated on May 12, 2016

Musicians all over the world, regardless of genre, can rely on one thing as the biggest proof that they have truly “made it” as a world-class artist: a song that earns a spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The chart is a good and fairly objective indication of an artist’s success as it pertains to airplay and sales, the two main things that serve as metrics as to how viable an artist is in the music industry – a musician may have a massive following on social media and a legion of homegrown fans, but those do not necessarily translate to actual album sales, and an artist that doesn’t make any money will be on a definite expiration date.

What Exactly is the Billboard Hot 100 and why is it a Milestone for Success?

The parent company, Billboard, has been around as an American publication since the early 50s, where it served as the de facto source of information on the amusement business industry, where it dealt mostly with pre-radio medium such as vaudeville, fairgrounds, and circuses.

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The magazine also devoted part of its issues to tracking record sales, radio airplays and jukebox plays (using data gathered from retailers, jukebox operators, and DJs.) separately, but a few years later decided to combine the data into a single chart: the Hot 100, which was considered at the time as indicative of overall success of an artist because it is the first chart to factor in both sales and air play – two things that are broadly similar on any given time, yet with enough variations that combining their values usually provide a big picture view of who’s currently on top of the business.

Bangtan Boys Expressing Their Dream to Enter Billboard Hot 100

For instance, an artist may be getting a lot of air play indicates his popularity, but does not necessarily indicate a lot of sales, as it is primarily driven by advertising and is mostly a passive medium that even casual listeners can enjoy without any financial commitments.

A large number of sales is not necessarily an accurate representation of popularity, because while it is a direct line to consumers, it is influenced heavily by devout fans and can be affected by fleeting trends. It is possible to have record-breaking sales coming from a small fraction of the entire consumer base.

On the other hand, the data for both airplay and sales make for a great system that covers blind spots in each metric, providing a more substantial peek into the commercial viability and performance of an artist.

Other Korean boybands, such as Big Bang, already made it to Billboard 200
Other Korean boybands, such as Big Bang, already made it to Billboard 200

Is It Still Relevant in the Age of the Internet?

Another reason why the Billboard Hot 100 is considered a great metric for measuring an artist’s success is that Billboard is constantly modifying and adapting their methodologies to better suit shifts and changes within the industry.

This willingness to adapt to changes in the industry is already apparent even during the chart’s early years, particularly in 1957 when Billboard dropped Jukebox plays as a metric due to the fact that jukeboxes were on the wane, while radio is starting to become more popular.

These days, they have incorporated data from Nielsen Soundscan, which is an information and sales tracking system for the sales of music video and song products throughout Canada and the US. Billboard is also in partnership with the National Association of Recording Merchandisers. This gives them access to relevant data concerning streaming music, which many would say is a relatively new medium that is starting to take over radio’s dominance.

In fact, it is safe to say that the Billboard Hot 100 is more relevant now than it ever was, as the age of the Internet has allowed the inclusion of songs that would not normally make it to the chart, due to language and geological barriers.

Can a Foreign Artist Make it to the Billboard Hot 100?

Despite being a US-based chart, the Billboard Hot 100 can be conquered by foreign artists, even those who are normally saddled by language barriers. South Korea, in particular, has proven to be fertile with artists that are palatable to Western audience, and a number of their songs have made it to the Hot 100; PSY has done it several times with four different songs and girl band Wonder Girls did it with Nobody, buoyed by its Motown-inspired music video.

There are also younger and fresher South Korean acts that seem poised to make their mark on the Billboard Hot 100, such as the group Bangtan Boys. This 7-piece boyband seem to have what it takes to make it to the Billboard Hot 100, a fact supported by their frequent appearance on Billboard’s other charts, such as several single digit peaks at the Billboard Twitter Emerging Artists chart, and their The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Part 2 making frequent appearances at Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart, at one point peaking at #2. Unfortunately, BTS has yet to reach the HOT 100, and it’s not because they don’t have what it takes. They are nearly there, as The Most Veautiful Moment in Life, Part 2 has already entered the Billboard 200, debuting at no. 171 with 5,000 copies sold.

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Now, the onus is on the group’s fans as there are a few things that the Bangtan Boys needs to achieve in order to crack the Billboard Hot 100:

#1. Submission to the Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems (BDS)

This ties in with the Airplay metric used by Billboard. They track a song’s repeated airplays on the radio using Nielsen’s Broadcast Data Systems (BDS), which uses digital pattern recognition in order to identify which songs are currently airing on TV and radio stations across the US and Canada. BTS is not an indie group, so you can safely assume that their record company has already taken steps to submit their songs to the BDS (as evidenced by their songs appearing on other Billboard charts). As a fan, you can help by ensuring that their songs get airplay as much as possible. That means calling radio stations and requesting for BTS songs (if applicable, you don’t want to be a nuisance) or watching music video shows and requesting BTS videos.

#2 Buy Their Albums

The Nielsen Soundscan gets its data by scanning bar codes and tracking sales of albums across 14 thousand different sources, from traditional brick and mortar record stores to online stores and concert booths. So buy as many albums of your favorite artists if you want to help them crack the Billboard Hot 100. Keep in mind that sales during the first week of release are also tracked for the Heatseeker charts, so it’s better to make purchases during the first week of sales, as the inclusion in the Billboard Heatseeker charts can be added promotion and exposure.

#3 Social Media and Streaming

Now we get to where you, the fans, have the biggest say without requiring any financial commitment. As part of their commitment to keeping the Billboard Hot 100 updated for changes in the industry, Billboard has started tracking streaming of music and music videos on online entertainment sites sucha as Yutube, Vevo, Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, and several online radios like Slacker and Rdio. So use these social networks to talk about, watch, and share videos of your favorite groups.

Vevo is a particularly special case, in that you want to stream and like Youtube videos from Vevo channels (you can easily recognize them as they bear the name of the artist with the Vevo suffix, e.g. BTSVEVO), because these are official streams tracked by Billboard. This is in contrast with unofficial uploads, which are usually modified by uploaders in ways that will help subvert Youtube’s digital pattern recognition and avoid takedown notices (this unfortunately has the side effect of also subverting the BDS.)

Promote Your Favorite Group and Create New Fans

Basically, your biggest contribution to helping your favorite group make it to the Billboard HOT 100 is to promote. Create fanpages, participate in existing ones, and try to introduce them to people who are unfamiliar. It’s a clean and safe way of drumming up support. It starts small at first, but if every single fan of an artist pitches in, making it to the top won’t be so farfetched. Think of it this way: every single Internet user who shared the Gangnam Style music video were partly responsible for the song peaking at the 2nd spot on the chart. Do it for your favorite artist, and each new fan you influence will account for more album sales and airplay, and ultimately a spot at the top of the charts.

Some Korean groups that made it to Billboard 200


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